Two months on, Aziz Colony is still trying to recover from the scars left behind by a raging mob attack.
In April, a Christian seminary, houses of Christians and a church was attacked by a mob protesting the release of two Christians who had been accused of blasphemy from protective custody. Even though the allegations were false, the mob left its mark on Christian properties, destroying everything from furniture to bird cages.
Today, the windows of a Christian-run school, where over 80 per cent of the students are Muslim, are still broken. Posters offering a Rs500,000 reward for information on the “enemies of religion and the state” involved in the riot dot the area’s walls.
Residents are highly reluctant to talk about the incident. While several said they were not in the city at the time, others redirected questions to Chaudhry Farooq, the area pastor Eric Isaac Chaudhry’s brother.
“Look at the neighbourhood,” said Farooq, who has served as deputy Nazim in the past. “Everyone is living together peacefully.”
But Eric Isaac, who has been a pastor at the Presbyterian Church for the past decade, offered a grim assessment. “There is a threat against my life. Despite this, I went to the area last Sunday to conduct worship at the church. The government did say it would provide me with security but that has yet to happen.”
According to Pastor Isaac, the attackers were a mix of locals and outsiders. “The same family [that was accused of blasphemy] has been targeted before but that incident was not publicised. A letter was written and they were alleged to be behind it. The investigative agencies cleared them of the allegations at that time.”
The rioters’ motive is unclear to Pastor Isaac. “I think people were jealous of my work and the church activities and did not want the expansion of the church [which is currently under construction].”
Farooq struck a defensive tone, choosing not to blame the Muslim community at large for the incident and praised the relationship between majority and minority faiths.
In the past, the communities lived together peacefully he said, pointing to his own election as Naib Nazim as proof of the tolerance and acceptance in society.
“There was not a single event organised by the church that was not attended by Muslims,” Pastor Isaac recalled. “All school and college activities involved the Muslim clergy, leaders and people.”
He said he spent Rs20,000 on flyers and banners condemning Pastor Terry Jones’ act of burning the Quran. “I think my programmes helped create a peaceful atmosphere. But suddenly this incident happened and it left Gujranwala’s residents disturbed.”
“This was done by the enemies of the country who want to destablise it,” says Farooq. “Some people tried to use this for their own gains. These people have no understanding of religion or faith.”
Gujranwala is home to thousands of Christians, many of whom left after the attack. Pastor Isaac said that while some have returned, he hopes the rest will follow soon.
“Christians have been living here for decades,” said Farooq. “Our events – births, marriages, funerals – are incomplete without each other. With these incidents … it is like fighting with God.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2011.